The best leaders value their words, and use them sparingly.When they have accomplished their task,the people say,

“Amazing!We did it, all by ourselves!”

(Tao Te Ching)

It was a beautiful tea garden in Chengdu, China. Noticing the sunlight dancing through the trees, and the patterns it made on the paths, my good friend and I settled into nice, comfortable wicker chairs, with well worn cushions.  A lovely aroma filled the air as the waiter brought beautiful jasmine tea, and the jasmine flowers floated delicately on the top of the water in the teapot.

Sitting about sixty miles from the birthplace of Taoism, my friend and I reflected on what we were learning from the culture, the sights, the tastes, the aromas, the people and the literature and philosophy of this amazing country. While reflecting on our own amazing learning experiences, we also talked about the learning experiences we all have as human beings.

The waiters with sensitivity discretely checked in periodically to replenish our jasmine tea.

The conversation continued, jumping from food to philosophy, to family, to comparisons with home. All the while, the shadows lengthened and the newly lit lanterns danced like conversations on the lines between the trees.

We were lucky that earlier some fantastic colleagues from Chengdu had treated us to the food they would ordinarily order, the specialties of Szechuan province, with its characteristic spicy chili flavors.  Our topics of conversation were provided by these experiences and by our own interpretations of these experiences, and comparing these to our normal life.

Being fully immersed in the experience, the time passed amazingly quickly and somewhat suddenly it seemed that day was now dusk.

We reflected, that as people, learning will happen anyway, just by virtue of being alive, and experiencing life, and the changes that take place over the course of the day.  When we pay attention and reflect on our experiences we can learn in an even deeper way.

As facilitators of learning, we can learn from the waiters in this story, providing a nice interesting environment, allowing people to engage in what they are interested in, respecting the discussions that take place between people, and every now and then keeping things refreshed.

We can learn from our colleagues and friends in the story, to provide inject spice and flavor to our conversations, to provide comparisons, and reflections that anchor our new experiences with our normal life.

If we can set up our learners for learning experiences, that fully immerse them in the experience, and not just focus on learning objectives, tasks to do, or content ‘to consume’, then it is usually a deeper and more memorable learning experience, and is more satisfying for everyone.

Experiences happen anyway, so while this requires thought, it is also possible to do just a little bit more with training, if we think in terms of the overall experience a learner goes through in training using all of their senses, and how they might relate these experiences and replicate them in their normal life.  We can adjust the environment, the topics, the sights, sounds, and feelings evoked far beyond a PowerPoint presentation.

Like the leader in the Tao Te Ching, we can learn to try to create the environment for learning that means the passing of time is not noticed, that we ourselves as trainers are relatively unobtrusive, and that at the end of it, the learners having been fully immersed in the experience can say:

“Amazing, we did it all by ourselves.”

[originally published on LinkedIn]